Not that long ago, only a few electric cars were on the market. Nowadays, there are a few dozen. We certainly have a few favorites here on CleanTechnica, but every plug-in car really has its own selling points. I’m sure I don’t have a comprehensive list of these in my head, and many of the points are definitely as subjective as opinions about music or movies, but below are my summarized thoughts on why I’d recommend various plug-in models.
Audi A3 e-tron: This car offers the kind of luxury-class interior many people want and expect from a $38,000 car. The backup engine makes sure you never have to worry about running out of electricity, and the power the drivetrain provides is enough to have some fun on an empty road. Overall, the A3 e-tron’s style is near the top of the table.
Audi Q7 e-tron: Another beauty that also packs a punch of torque, includes a wealth of luxurious interior features and soft spots, and serves as a style and status marker in any neighborhood is Audi’s first plug-in SUV. I have to say that I’m yet to experience the inside of this model, so can’t say as much about it as most of the models on this page, but it surely fits the Audi brand is must offer more of the fine features of automotive life than is normal or even healthy. Enjoy it if you got it.
BMW 225xe, 330e, 530e, 740e, X5 xDrive40e | Mercedes B250e, C350e, E350e, GLC350e, GLE550e, S550e | Volvo S60 T8, V60 T8, XC90 T8: I think we all know why BMW, Mercedes, and Volvo models sell so well — they offer enough luxury and traditionally high-class style to make the CEO of a multinational corporation feel like she/he has arrived. The choice between the models really just depends on your preferences regarding size, power, car class, and price, but they all provide luxury, comfort, and prestige. Except for the fully electric B250e, all of these models also provide a mixture of moderate electric range for city driving and a large gasoline tank + engine for backup power. Yes, the Audi models could have been lumped in here as well, but for some reason I left them to themselves.
BMW i3: Perhaps the best city car on the market, this from-the-ground-up electric model has exhilarating acceleration thanks not just to the electric motor but also the light carbon fiber body and small size. The visibility in this car is practically unmatched, the interior is another level of sophistication and artistic design, the green production process and materials are noble, the handling is insane, and the adaptive cruise control is a great relief on a long trip. Throw in self-parking tech, a range extender (if you choose that version), arguably the best regenerative braking on the market, and a sizable electric range on the upper trim, and that all explains why I hope to have an i3 in my garage one day.
BMW i8: The BMW i8 is a stunning piece of art. It’s also quite powerful and can be a lot of fun to drive. Plus, it has a HUD! Did I say it was pretty?
Chevy Bolt: The longest-range electric car you can get for $30,000 to $40,000, this functional hatchback seems to be well loved by early owners. Modern comforts, a slick rearview mirror camera, “Surround Vision,” knobs & buttons galore, and a hyper-normal look for those who want to blend into the crowd rather than stand out like
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer the BMW i3, the Bolt is a solid choice if those features tickle your giggle button.
Chevy Volt: If you want maximum electric range with a huge amount of gasoline backup as well, the Volt is #1. With enough electric range for nearly every day of the year, Volt drivers drive approximately the same number of electric miles as Nissan LEAF drivers, but they also have the also have the security of a sizable gas tank any time they need it. It’s hard to beat the practical appeal of the Volt — actually, I’m not sure if another model can genuinely beat it. The Volt is also sporty, reliable, and comfortable for four people. As long as it checks all of your critical boxes, I’d say that you probably couldn’t find a better value for the money on the market.
Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid: The Pacifica Hybrid is the first and only minivan with a plug. It’s more competitive than its gasoline sibling, has all the functionality of a conventional minivan, and can enjoy the benefits of home charging and quiet zero-emissions driving and moderate circumstances.
Fiat 500e: One of the cutest cars in history, the 500e is still super sporty and fun thanks to its electric drivetrain and compact size. The 500e also comes at some unbeatably low prices at times in California. But yeah, that design pulls many buyers in even without the discounts.
Ford C-Max Energi: Want an electric that feels sort of like a CUV? With an expansive front seat, back seat, cargo area, and windshield, the C-Max Energi is hugely loved by many of its owners. The electric range is enough for most commutes and basic city driving, and the gas engine allows for road trips on the fly if they ever call you out. Again, if you’d rather blend in than shine like a lighthouse, this is a model that does that magic trick.
Ford Focus Electric: The Focus Electric again blends into the crowd, but I’d say it’s a much more attractive design — one of my favorites among mass market cars. The car’s interior is also made to serve the mass market well and apparently features more luxe than competing cars in this class. In a review written for CleanTechnica, one Focus Electric driver contends, “the experience in operating the Ford Focus Electric is far nicer than the other market comparables. All of the touch points, and materials are far better than what one would expect for a car of this price. There is basically one option on the FFE: $1000 for what it calls ‘Light Stone’ leather — shaming Nissan’s nickel-and-diming trim levels, and for less money. Fit and finish is excellent with no squeaks or rattles. They must have been inspired by Colin Chapman because they’ve managed to ‘simplify and add’ silence. When driving, this car is very similar to my Volvo S80 … you can easily hear a whisper from the back seat. ”
Ford Fusion Energi: The Fusion Energi again offers a quality mass market build, interior, and overall design. The exterior styling is again one that I think wins many a beauty contest at a red light, while the interior space is enough for a modern family to sit comfortably. Like the C-Max Energi, the electric range is probably enough for your commute and local errands, while the gas backup makes sure you never have to break a sweat on a trip to grandma’s, an exceptionally busy day, a vacation road trip, or if you were the chosen getaway driver for this week’s run from the po-po. Actually, the Fusion Energi has the most combined range of any electric offering on the market last we heard.
Hyundai Ioniq (Electric & PHEV): Adding extreme efficiency + premium quality in an affordable package + your choice of range in a fully electric or plug-in hybrid version, the Ioniq is now one of the top competitors to the Nissan LEAF in markets where it’s sold, and a significant number of buyers do think the Ioniq offers more electric value for the money.
Kia Soul EV: This model offers a unique combo of SUV-like styling, class, and affordable pricing. Its styling pulls in a certain type of consumer, but it’s also not something many people would call unattractive. Its 93 miles of electric range should be enough for all of your normal driving needs, but it’s really the hip hamster appeal that sells this model.
MINI Countryman PHEV: Come on, we all knows what sells a MINI — the styling. MINI models come with a classic, historic, nostalgic appeal that still somehow communicates 21st century class and sophistication. With both a plug and an engine, the Countryman PHEV again offers the benefits of an electric drivetrain with the security and flexibility of a gasoline engine.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: The only semi-affordable plug-in SUV on the market (well, not in the US, but in Europe), this vehicle has been extremely popular over the years. My experience inside the vehicle was that it had all the space, comfort, space, comfort, space, and comfort any semi-normal person could need. It’s also one of the best looking SUVs on the market, imho. It’s not at all a surprise that this is one of the highest selling electrified models in history.
Nissan LEAF: Speaking of top-selling electric models, the LEAF is queen, with the most global sales of any electric car in history. With plenty of space in the hatchback cargo area, a comfy interior in the front and back, quality driving performance that balances a serenely smooth ride with enough instant torque to do what needs to be done at any intersection, compatibility with the fairly widespread CHAdeMO fast charging network, “No Charge to Charge” programs in many locations, enough range for common driving needs, and a hypercompetitive price tag — especially in markets with extra discounts — the LEAF keeps pulling in customers day after day in countries around the world. Also, my mom loves hers. Actually, LEAF buyers are abnormally happy with their cars according to independent research on the matter.
Peugeot iOn, Citroën C-Zero, Mitsubishi i-MiEV: The oldest electric car on the market in many places, this trio of options brands the model underneath differently, but it’s such a distinctive design — and a cute/neat one — that we can all see through the charade. That said, the different branding makes it easier to find a choice that suits your taste — I hugely prefer the Peugeot look for some reason. Aside from the look, the head space is also a popular appeal for the i-MiEV and its siblings.
Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid & Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid: These plug-in hybrid options offer a pretty much unprecedented combination of luxury, performance, and style. Yes, Tesla models, Mercedes models, BMW models, Audi models, and Volvo do as well, but these options are all sort of like cake — they include more or less the same ingredients, but some of us prefer one final product over another whereas other people have the reverse preference. That said, like I mentioned above, these Porsche models offer a pretty much unprecedented combination of luxury, performance, and style — Porsche is pretty good at taking things to another level.
Renault ZOE: With the longest range of any electric model available across Europe, an attractive design, relatively high-power normal charging, one of the most competitive prices on the electric car market (maybe the most competitive for the value), and all the basic comforts of a modern car, the ZOE has been dominating European electric car sales. It is certainly one of the first cars that comes to mind when recommending electrics to people just learning about this zero-emissions market.
Smart Fortwo Electric Drive: If you want a tiny city car that can park in the bestest of spaces, but also still packs a pick burst of umph, the Smart Fortwo is what you’re looking for (or its coming Forfour sibling). I know there are Tesla drivers who also enjoy their Smart Fortwo Electric Drives — that should tell you something.
Tesla Model 3: ’nuff said.
Tesla Model S: Come on.
Tesla Model X: Most amazing SUV on the planet.
Toyota Prius Prime: The most advanced trim of the most famous hybrid family in the world, the Prius Prime offers some cutting edge tech (including a HUD!), insane cargo space, insane range that is enviably efficient compared to other gasmobiles, and the second best navigation on the market. The Prius Prime is a tough competitor for practically any other car in the “total value for the money” category. It’s also got some slick curves if you’re into that kind of thing.
Volkswagen e-Golf & Golf GTE: The Volkswagen Golf is one of the most well known and heavily consumed cars on the planet. The two electrified options on the market are similar compelling — well, more compelling — for the cost. The combo of comfort, handling, storage space, regenerative braking options, and humble yet attractive style make the e-Golf and the Golf GTE two good options if you want to step into the plug-in car world but not too far out of the automotive norm.
Volkswagen e-up!: Similar to the plug-in Golf options above but at a more affordable price, the e-up! is one of the most cost-efficient electric cars on the market yet still looks good, offers a comfortable ride, includes various regenerative braking options, and does its job … with zero emissions and the quiet serenity of an electric drivetrain. It also still includes plenty of enjoyable torque.
Volkswagen Passat GTE: The Passat GTE is on the other side of the Golf from the e-up! It increases the luxury, really makes the driver and passengers feel special, includes enough power to thrill your friends (and irritate your wife), and still retains a bit of that everyman appeal. It’s a hard model to compete with in the popular yet still semi-exclusive class it lives in.
Which model are you going to buy?
If you want a closer look at specs, check out this page.